Tirari Desert

General, Art + Environment

Desert trip 2010. Part 1, Flood in Tirari Desert

A small group including Guy Fitzhardinge, Faye Alexander, Steve Morton and Australian Wildlife Conservancy operations manager, Tony Fleming and myself visited Kalamurina, an exceptional Australian Wildlife Conservancy reserve in the Tirari Desert, South Australia in April.  www.australianwildlife.orgThe big rains in Queensland have gradually flowed down the desert river systems in massive volume to now flood the Warburton, Kallakoopah and Macumba Rivers. Kalamurina fronts over 160 kms of the Warburton and this reserve, more than the size of Tasmania, reaches all the way from the Simpson Desert down to Lake Eyre. The flood peak is just reaching the Warburton groove above Lake Eyre and the eastern part of the lake is flooded.

We camped for 5 days on the Warburton, and despite our worst fears the mozzies and the flies weren’t too bad, our major problem, mainly for my paper canvases and sketch book pages, were huge storm cells moving across the wide horizons and we had 5 mls of rain overnight one night. The Birdsville track was cut above Mungerane and briefly closed again below it after up to 5 inches of rain fell near Leigh Creek.

This rain and flood waters made driving around the property tricky and a simple trip 200 kms to turn off a tap at a bore took 10 hours one day. I fortunately know what days like this can be like and spent a long day painting by the Warburton. I made an experimental 3 panel study bringing together the expanding and massive coal mining operations at Leigh Creek with the Warburton in flood. The following days I painted a 3 panel study of the Warburton River in flood!

Fellow artist, Faye Alexander, works in recycled materials and was able to collect some wire and pieces from the dump at Kalamurina to make some work. Guy, Steve and Tony did some avid birdwatching and poked about the camp fire, telling yarns and cooking the camp oven!

The property managers Tessa and Mark McClaren were terrific hosts and Mark took us down the Warburton in a dinghy one afternoon. The experience was more like being in Arnhemland in the wet with water horizon to horizon reflecting light through the half submerged coolabah and also big storms shafting light down through rain. The birdlife is wonderful and Mark turned to engine off so we could drift and just appreciate the silence and birds. A beautiful red dingo howled and sniffed along the bank near us when we landed on shore for a walk.

Trevor Wright from Wright Air flew up from William Creek and took the 4 of us for a 2 hour flight in a circuit over the 3 rivers in flood, the Warburton, Kallacoopah and Macumba rivers, then over the Warburton groove and the top part of Lake Eyre.

Everyone says it is a memorable experience and this certainly will be unforgettable. Flying at 300- 500 feet one loses one’s depth perception and it was often only when a flock of pelicans or camel hoof prints showed up in the river mud, that we were able to tell our actual height. The landscape is just immense and seeing it interspersed by misty rain, storm cells, shafts of light and huge cumulus clouds added a rare dimension and atmosphere to the flight.